Nurse Vs. Nurse Practitioner: What's the Difference

Nurse practitioners and nurses are both healthcare workers specializing in patient care, rehabilitation, and the education of patients and their families. Aside from educational requirements, one of the biggest differences is that nurse practitioners can prescribe medications.

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Nurse vs. Nurse Practitioner

Learn about the differences between a nurse and a nurse practitioner, as well as typical job duties and educational requirements for each career.

The main differences between nurses, known as registered nurses (RNs), and nurse practitioners (NPs) are the level of education required and the level of care they're authorized to provide. For instance, an undergraduate education is sufficient to work as an RN. However, NPs must complete a graduate degree in nursing to practice. RNs typically work in a team environment alongside physicians and specialists, while NPs can work independently of a physician as primary or specialty care providers. While both positions help care for patients, RNs provide basic nursing care and NPs can perform additional medical procedures and duties, like prescribing medication.

Nurse Job Duties

RNs focus on treating and educating patients while assisting medical doctors. RNs may be involved in coordinating community health initiatives like blood drives, screenings, and immunizations. They often help patients establish a plan of care, and their responsibilities may include rehabilitative activities, such as administering medication, maintaining fluid IV lines, administering therapy, and recording patient observations for doctors' assessments.

Nurse Education

Aspiring nurses have three educational pathways from which to choose. They can pursue an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), complete an approved nursing school diploma program, or earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The ADN and diploma programs typically take two to three years to complete, while the BSN takes four years. All three options qualify graduates to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Students must pass this test to become registered and obtain their mandatory license.

Nurse Practitioner Job Duties

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who are able to prescribe medication, unlike registered nurses. Similar to registered nurses, nurse practitioners can practice primary care or specialize in such areas as women's health, neonatology, or pediatrics. They often perform duties outside the realms of a registered nurse, including ordering and performing diagnostic tests and x-rays, diagnosing medical problems, managing patients' overall care, and counseling patients.

Nurse Practitioner Education

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires earning a master's degree in nursing or higher, typically a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Students need to have an RN license prior to applying to these programs. Although individuals with a diploma or ADN can apply to a graduate nursing program, a BSN is the recommended background. In addition to already having an RN license, most states that recognize the APRN title also require that these professionals obtain certification.

Nurses provide patients with basic care and help organize community health events, while nurse practitioners function as independent care providers and are able to prescribe medication. Both positions require licensing and/or certification to practice.

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